Understanding K-Pop’s Global Impact on the Music Market 
Sun, April 18, 2021

Understanding K-Pop’s Global Impact on the Music Market 

Today, K-Pop is as much a part of the worldwide music market in ways they have never been before / Photo by: Korea.net via Wikimedia Commons

 

If you’re always on Twitter, it’s likely that you’ve seen it too many times to count: fancams. 

Not just any fancams, but fancams of K-Pop stars. Over the past few years, as globalization kept hitting the Billboard hard and fast, South Korean artists like PSY were no longer considered so foreign. Today, K-Pop is as much a part of the worldwide music market in ways they have never been before. 

This has obviously been incredibly beneficial to the South Korean market, but what kind of contribution has K-Pop had to the music market as a whole? What percentage of the proverbial pie do they control and how are they faring with competitors? 

The Size of the South Korean Music Market 

The South Korean music market boasts an impressive size, and that size now has enough force behind it to take on the world. Business magazine Forbes reports that the industry’s tremendous growth has been so seismic and noticeable within the West that the aforementioned fancams are not the only indicators of its sheer size and fast growth. 

At the forefront of this wave is BTS and BLACKPINK, two K-Pop groups cited to be leading the market growth. In the past years, BTS and BLACKPINK have both reached wider audiences within the United States and other Western countries, usually thanks to more TV guestings, and even performances at Western music festivals such as Coachella. 

These days, K-Pop has become a “power player,” receiving the honor or ranking sixth place among the top 10 music markets worldwide. With surely more guest appearances in Coachella (where South Korean boyband BIGBANG will be playing this year), K-Pop will continue down this path. 

K-Pop’s impact is also felt in the increase of physical sales in countries like Korea, Japan, and India, this compared to the rest of the world’s record on physical sales, which declined by 10.1% worldwide. Because of this, Asia is also now named “the second-largest region for ‘physical and digital music combined for the first time.’” 

At the forefront of this wave is BTS and BLACKPINK, two K-Pop groups cited to be leading the market growth / Photo by: AJEONG_JM via Wikimedia Commons

 

Game Changers in the World of K-Pop 

Before bands like BTS or BLACKPINK were big, they were merely saplings of an idea. They are now those who reap the painstaking efforts that earlier K-Pop artists had gone through in their own attempts to puncture the barrier between K-Pop and the Western music market.

The most memorable efforts even escape younger fans of the genre, even as they were game changers in their own time. For example, very few know about that time Wonder Girls -- who were arguably the ones who inducted more of Asia into the K-Pop phenomenon -- collaborated with Western artist Akon. 

Or that time when BIGBANG won the Best Worldwide Act award at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2011, during the time K-Pop’s impending fame in the West was actually just starting. 

According a list by men’s magazine GQ, other game changers in the world of K-Pop before it became fashionable to be a fan of it were groups like SHINee and their dominance of the Golden Age of K-Pop, which ran through 2008 to 2012. “Lucifer” was one of their most popular songs and continue to be in any bona fide K-Pop fans’ nostalgia list. 

Before beat-switching also became a widely explored trend on the Western music stage, girl groups in K-Pop were already playing around with it. These groups are 2NE1, with their song “I Am The Best,” and Girls’ Generation’s “The Boys.” 

The “Big China Problem” 

K-Pop may have shaped up to be lucrative enough in the West but in China, the situation has gone from immensely good to uncertain. According to Foreign Policy, an American news publication, South Korea is actually stuck in a tug of war of sorts. 

The US and China are in a trade war, and between them sits South Korea. South Korea works with both of these countries because they are two of South Korea’s largest trading partners. Specifically, 25% of South Korean exports go to China, while 12% goes to the US. According to Foreign Policy, these exports are semiconductors, smartphone chips, and petrochemicals, but after South Korea agreed to “cooperate with the United States to build the THAAD missile defense system,” China didn’t feel so safe with South Korean partnership anymore. 

The export of K-Pop to the country is now also taking a hit. 

To retaliate, China continues to be “increasingly paranoid about foreign influence,” and in K-Pop, this is exemplified by China’s growing demands for censorship that “tightens by the month.” If things don’t go well between China and South Korea, it won’t be long until China bans K-Pop music from entering the country either.

But entertainment companies like SM Entertainment have been establishing a work-around for this kind of possibility, training Chinese idols to try and attract the Chinese market. While this was a tactic they had already been using since 2008, it might be now that they need it the most.

K-Pop may have shaped up to be lucrative enough in the West but in China, the situation has gone from immensely good to uncertain / Photo by: Yo Hibino via Wikimedia Commons